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The Early Days of 

Independentism and Congregationalism 
in the Northern Islands of Scotland 

ARCHIBALD MacWHIRTER, F.S.A.(Scot.) 


Orkney and Shetland Before 1800 

When the first Congregational preachers set out for the northern 
isles, the people of Orkney and Shetland were all nominally connected 
with the Church of Scotland. The Reverend John Yule of Kirkwall 
(1747-1792) is credited with saying “If we are right then we are all right 
and if we are wrong then we are all wrong”. 

Although the Secession had taken root in 1733 and the Relief Church 
in 1761 these movements had no supporters in the northern counties of 
Orkney and Shetland. One reason may well have been their isolation, 
though this has been exaggerated. It is often said, for example, that the 
Revolution of 1688 was not known in Shetland until six months later, but 
in fact the landing of William of Orange at Torbay on 5thNovember,i688, 
was known in Lerwick by 15th December. 1 During the ministry of the 
Reverend Mr. Gray of Nesting, Shetland, in the early eighteenth century, 
his mode of travelling to the General Assembly was by boat to Lerwick: 
by smack to Hamburg: by smack to London and thence to Edinburgh by 
coach. It is said, too, that commissioners from Shetland to the General 
Assembly usually left home in August or September to travel south, 
spending the entire winter on the Scottish mainland and returning the 
following June, but the Diary of the Rev. John Mill, minister of Dunross- 
ness from 1742 to 1805, shows that, while travelling was slow, uncertain 
and sometimes hazardous, there was no need for anything like a nine 
months’ absence in order to attend the Assembly. 2 However, the remote- 
ness of the islands and the difficulty and danger of travelling from mainland 

1 R. Cowie, Shetland, Descriptive and Historical (Aberdeen, 1871); A. C. O’Dell, 
Historical Geography of the Shetland Islands (Lerwick, 1939), 177, 296. 

a Cowie, op. cit.\ Mill’s Diary (Scot. Hist. Soc.); cf. G. Donaldson, Northwards 
by Sea (Edinburgh, 1966), 4. 


63 


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SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


to island and across the islands by land or sea were discouraging features 
for anyone intent on paying them a visit. At times there were exceptions 
and it is on record that at different periods Orkney and Shetland have 
been visited by Quakers, Swedenborgians and Moravians in attempts to 
spread knowledge of their separate beliefs. In no case did these visits 
result in the gathering of supporters even although the Quaker Missionaries 
had penetrated and conducted services in such unlikely places as the 
islands of Swona and the Pentland Skerries. 

Other early visitors are deserving of mention. At the General Assembly 
held on 17th February, 1700, an Act was passed appointing a Commission 
of Assembly consisting of seven ministers and one elder to visit the 
Presbytery of Zetland “for assisting the brethern of the said presbytery 
in their presbyterial work”. The members of the Commission that lived 
“be-south Tay” were appointed to meet at Edinburgh on the first day of 
April to be in readiness to take their voyage and with the first fair wind 
thereafter to go to Zetland ‘ ‘and in case they shall find it convenient either 
to go by Caithness and Orkney or return that way. They being hereby 
empowered to do all things in these provinces for the good of the Church 
that they have by their Commission to do in Zetland”. At the following 
Assembly on 5th March, 1701, an Act of Approbation of the actings of this 
Commission appears in the Assembly Records. A register of their actings, 
beginning upon the 18th day of April, 1700, and ending 24th June of the 
same year and consisting of 190 pages, ‘ 'do evidence the great pains and 
diligence of said Commissioners and the great danger they were exposed 
to in their voyage by sea and likewise the fatigue they had by land in 
travelling to accomplish the design they were sent on . . The Moderator 
according to appointment gave them the thanks of the Assembly for their 
good services. 1 

It is far from the purpose of this paper to cricitise the Established 
Church clergy of Orkney and Shetland in the eighteenth century. It has 
been suggested that they identified themselves with the upper classes; 
that they frequently absented themselves from their duties for considerable 
periods and that, as many of the churches were in a ruinous condition, the 
clergy accepted this as a sufficient reason for not ministering in all parts 
of their respective and usually extensive parishes. Many examples of the 
prevailing conditions are to be found in the pages of the Old Statistical 
Account of Scotland. In St. Andrews Parish, Orkney, the church was in 
a ruinous and dangerous state and St. Peter’s Church in Deemess, the 
other under the oversight of the minister, was roofless. The two churches 

’ Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1843). 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 65 


in the Parish of Evie and Rendal were used alternately although both had 
been condemned on account of their ruinous condition a number of years 
previously. In the united parishes of South Ronaldsay and Burray 
(comprising mainly two large islands) there were three churches in the 
minister’s charge at each of which he preached one Sabbath in turn “but 
few of the people”, he stated, “were in any event disposed to attend 
Divine Worship more than once in three weeks!” 

In the more northerly of the islands the position was little different. 
On some of the islands preaching was very infrequent, and in North 
Ronaldsay, for instance, not more than six services per annum were held. 
In Shetland the large number of ancient parishes had long been combined 
into twelve charges, and twelve ministers were inadequate for the pastoral 
work of that wide area. A quotation from the Christian Magazine of 1797 
reads, “while in some parts of Orkney there is very little of the Gospel 
dispensed, in other parts of it there is no Gospel dispensed at all. A 
number of churches have been in a ruinous state for many years and the 
ministers do not reckon themselves obliged to preach unless they are 
furnished with a church to preach in. The consequence is that many of 
our poorer Orcadians hear as little about our Christ in His Heaven as the 
inhabitants of Japan”. 

The conditions in the islands were considerably behind those of the 
mainland and it may surprise many to learn that a disease known as 
“leprosy” lingered in Shetland until the end of the eighteenth century, 
having continued in Orkney and Shetland long after it had disappeared 
on the mainland of Scotland. There are many references to the disease 
even in the last years of the century and in 1798 a Shetland leper was 
admitted as a patient to the Edinburgh Infirmary. 1 

In fairness to clergy and to medical men in the Northern Islands the 
conditions of travel must be reiterated and anyone who has experienced 
the dark bleakness of an Orkney winter even today will appreciate why 
many of these educated men sank into a state of apathy in their isolation 
from the comfort, culture, and companionship of those of similar mental 
training and capabilities. Until 1800 even roads were almost unknown in 
Orkney and Shetland and travel by land and sea must have seemed for 
the most part of the year singularly uninviting. In many cases, journeys 
between points on the same island were often made by sailing boat owing 
to the impassable condition of such roads as existed. 

Such was the atmosphere into which the pioneers of Independency 
made their dramatic entry in the year 1797. 

1 Cowie, op. cit. The disease is said to have been actually elephantiasis. 


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SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


Tour in 1797 

The visit to Orkney in 1797 of Messrs. James Alexander Haldane and 
John Aikman created a great sensation. 1 During the early years of the 
Congregational movement in Scotland Haldane took a leading part in its 
activities. Born in Dundee in 1768, Haldane was orphaned at the age of 
six. He was then brought up by two uncles, one of whom was Adam 
Duncan, later hero of the great naval battle at Camperdown. Haldane 
entered the East India Company in 1785 as a midshipman and officer. 
While in command of the Melville Castle Captain Haldane was called on 
a dark night to cope with a desparate muthty which broke out on a sister 
ship of the East India fleet. “By calm and resolute determination and 
kindly and persuasive appeals”, we are told, “he quelled the mutiny 
without further bloodshed”. 

Not until 1794 did Haldane gradually turn his thoughts to religion. 
At first his intention was to serve as a missionary to India but this intention 
was frustrated by the hostility of the East India Company. He had given 
up the idea of making a great fortune with the Company and returned to 
this country solely with the intention of purchasing an estate and becoming 
a country gentleman. While in Edinburgh, however, he became acquainted 
with Mr. David Black, minister of Lady Yester’s Church, and Dr. 
Buchanan, then of the Canongate Church. Through these gentlemen he 
became interested in plans to instruct the poor and neglected people in 
Edinburgh and District; preaching his first sermon in May, 1797, in the 
schoolhouse at Gilmerton, he later preached to thousands on Calton Hill, 
Bruntsfield Links and King’s Park. 

Mr. Aikman, a native of Bo’ness, had in his early life been engaged in 
business in Jamaica. Here he was known as an opponent of Sabbath- 
breaking. Most businesses opened seven days weekly but Mr. Aikman 
insisted on his partners keeping separate books in order that he would not 
receive any of the profits drawn on Sunday. Returning to Scotland he 
went to study Divinity at Edinburgh University but did not complete his 
course and became associated with Haldane during his Sunday preachings 
at Gilmerton, in which Aikman also engaged. 

The famous trip undertaken by Haldane and Aikman to Orkney arose 
from accounts which they heard of spiritual destitution in the islands in 
the course of a preaching tour to the north of Scotland. 

i James Haldane, Journal of a Tour thro’ the North Counties of Scotland and the 
Orkney Isles in 1797 (Edinburgh, 1798); Haldane, The Lives of Robert Haldane 
and of his brother James Alexander Haldane (5th edn., Edinburgh, 1855). 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 67 

Before leaving Edinburgh on this tour the brethren published a 
manifesto regarding their intentions on this missionary journey: 

“The advantages of missionary schemes both in England and 
Scotland have remarkably appeared in extending the zeal of 
Christians to send the Gospel of Jesus to the dead places of the 
earth but also to use means to extend its influence at home. With 
this view a missionary journey has been undertaken to the northern 
parts of Scotland not to disseminate matters of doubtful disputation 
or to make converts to this or the other sect but to endeavour to 
stir up their brethren to flee from the wrath to come and not rest 
in an empty profession of religion. That their object may be 
misconstrued they have no doubt. It has already been said they 
are going under a design of making the people dissatisfied with their 
ministries but they can appeal to the great searcher of hearts that 
they are determined in their conversation or preaching to know 
nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. They would therefore 
request that intercession should be made for them by the Church 
of Christ without ceasing that they may have a prosperous journey 
and that many who are now disobedient may be by means of them 
turned to the wisdom of the just and that God and all in his name 
may be glorified through Christ to whom be praise and dominion 
for ever and ever Amen.” 

The expedition left Edinburgh on 12th July, 1797, in two coaches, 
after earnest prayer. The first meeting was held at North Queensferry, 
where they preached in a school to about fifty persons. Later in the day 
they pressed forward to Kingskettle where they arrived at 10 p.m. and 
preached the following morning. Having arrived at Elgin they heard that 
the great Lammas Market at Kirkwall would be assembled within a few 
days and would give them a grand opportunity of meeting large numbers 
of the islanders both from the Mainland and the smaller isles. This 
gathering in these days was the great event of the year at which large 
numbers of horses and cattle changed hands and many types of goods 
were exposed for sale. 

On nth August, 1797, the brethren left Elgin for Burghead to embark 
by boat for Orkney, and sailed with a fair wind. They preached on board 
the boat and the crew listened with much attention and frequently attended 
the services afterwards during their stay in Orkney. On arriving at 
Kirkwall on the following day they were taken care of by Bailie Jamieson 
of that town, described as a “friend of the truth”. Mr. Jamieson was a 
merchant who later rose to be Provost in 1812. 1 His interest in the 

1 Kirkwall Burgh Records. 


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SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


Congregational Church continued, for he was one of the guarantors when 
the first manse was built in Queen Street some years later. The first 
service of the campaign was conducted at half past six in the evening 
after intimation by a bell and was held in the Parish Close. Here Aikman 
preached to a congregation of about 800 persons. This square is bounded 
on three sides by St. Magnus’ Cathedral, the Earl’s Palace, and the 
Bishop’s Palace; and as a site for preaching was more comfortable for the 
audiences in this windswept area than most other open air sites available. 
Next day Aikman preached here at several gatherings of between 1,200 
and 3,000 people. Hearing that the minister at Shapinsay had been 
absent for a considerable time since going down to the General Assembly 
some months before, Mr. Haldane crossed there and preached twice by the 
seashore to congregations comprising most of the population. During this 
visit he had a conversation with a man of 92, born in the reign of Queen 
Anne and now confined to bed. The man confessed his lifelong ignorance 
of most things concerning the Gospel and was later visited on several 
occasions during the campaign until his death. This incident made a 
profound impression on Haldane which he often publicly referred to in 
after life. During the stay of sixteen days in Orkney Haldane took the 
islands to the east and Mr. Aikman the islands to the west of the mainland. 
In all they preached no less than fifty-five times and amongst other points 
visited were Stromness, Rendal, Evie, Egilsay, Rousay, Eday, Sanday, 
Deemess, Tankerness and North Ronaldshay. 

In most places the services were attended by practically all the in- 
habitants. For instance, in Sanday a crowd of 750 assembled and the 
highest numbers addressed at Kirkwall during the Lammas Fair amounted 
to between three and four thousand persons on weekdays and to more 
than six thousand on Sundays. In fact, it is stated that the preaching 
emptied the Fair. In the journal regarding the tour it is stated: “It 
becomes us here to remark the kindness of God to us both in crossing the 
different firths and during the whole of our stay in Orkney, having never 
once been incommoded while preaching with rain although sometimes the 
clouds had a lowering aspect”. To anyone acquainted with Orkney 
weather these circumstances truly were remarkable. In view of the 
general indifference of the Church of Scotland ministers to these visitors 
it is fair to say that they were received courteously at Stromness by the 
minister, Mr. Hamilton, and his wife. 

Visit to Shetland 

Two years later Mr. Haldane, who by now had been ordained by a 
group of Independent Ministers on 3rd February, 1799, and Mr. Aikman 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 69 

left along with Reverend Wm. Innes for a further tour in the north with 
the intention of visiting Shetland. Mr. Aikman, however, became unwell 
and had to remain at Kirkwall but Haldane and Innes earned on, and 
ioth July, 1799, saw them preach the first sermon heard in the Fair Isle 
for six years. From there they embarked in an open boat and were out 
all night in heavy rain. Arriving on the Shetland mainland they were 
received with hospitality by a gentleman named Ogilvie and commenced 
their preaching in bams. The first Sunday was spent in Lerwick, where 
they found that the people had so little connection with Scotland that a 
respectable woman living there asked if Edinburgh was as large as 
Lerwick! After preaching in Nesting they then visited the islands of 
Whalsay, Skerries, Fetlar, Unst and Yell. The Reverend Mr. Mill of 
Dunrossness, then aged 88, gave James Haldane his church to preach in 
and after the service stood up and in a commanding tone ordered the 
people to take heed of the words they heard, more especially as this visit 
was a new and unheard of occurrertce in their history. Later Haldane 
and Innes separated and the former penetrated to the distant island of 
Foula before rejoining his colleague at Scalloway. 

Arrived again in Lerwick, the brethren spent five days preaching each 
day in the town and neighbouring country. They were very hospitably 
received both by gentry and ministers except on one occasion. Having 
landed one afternoon, weary and famished, at an island where only one 
respectable house could be seen, they hoped there to find a cordial welcome; 
instead they were coldly and brusquely informed that the people of the 
island had no need of more preaching than the occasional services available. 
On hearing this the brethren withdrew and preached on the seashore. At 
night Haldane and Innes lodged in a primitive fisherman’s hut where they 
were provided with salt herring and oatcake for their supper and the floor 
for their bed. Strangely enough this incident had the effect of greatly 
increasing the interest and hospitality of Shetlanders throughout the 
islands, who sought to erase the stain which all felt had been cast on their 
insular hospitality. 

From Lerwick visits were paid to Dunrossness, Cunningsburgh, 
Sandwick and Bigton. These services frequently were conducted on the 
beach, but many parish ministers lent their churches. On 18th August 
the six weeks’ tour was completed. “People were often affected,” wrote 
Haldane, “and it is hoped that lasting impressions have in some instances 
been made.” 

Haldane and Innes had an exciting journey after their departure, in a 
six-oared boat belonging to the Commissioners of the Northern Fisheries. 
Hoping to reach the Fair Isle before dark and to cross over to Orkney in 


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SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


the morning, so as to arrive in Kirkwall in time for the Lammas Market, 
they found the swell of the sea to be so heavy and the embarkation so 
difficult that the wives of the boatmen begged their husbands not to 
proceed. Having set out, however, the night overtook them and they 
missed Fair Isle in the dark. The boatmen became uneasy and James 
Haldane himself took the helm and, guided by the stars, steered for 
North Ronaldsay. In the dim light of dawn, land at last was sighted, and 
the party was steered into Sanday after a trip of 54 miles. The missionaries 
retired to bed but the boatmen were determined to return at once to 
Shetland. Haldane was called up in order to pay for the hire and the 
boatmen set out contrary to his advice, as the weather was unfavourable 
and the currents dangerous. The result was that they were carried out of 
their course away to the north-east of Scotland, where they were picked 
up by a coasting vessel at the mouth of the Moray Firth. Such was their 
panic that they lost all presence of mind and on boarding the coaster 
failed to make fast their boat, so that it drifted away and was lost. 

On reaching Orkney, Haldane and Innes joined Aikman, and on this 
occasion, after preaching morning and evening during the Fair, left for 
the South Isles of Walls, South Ronaldshay and Flotta. Here again very 
considerable enthusiasm was aroused among large numbers of hearers. 

In considering the impact of these tours various factors must be 
assessed bearing on the enthusiastic reception received by the missionaries. 
In the first place, the novelty of open-air preaching was both in Orkney 
and Shetland so unusual as to constitute a very strong attraction, par- 
ticularly to the working classes. In the second place, the contrast between 
the direct and urgent appeals made by the missionaries and the possibly 
more prosaic addresses which the people were accustomed to hear in 
parish churches undoubtedly would make the former more attractive. 
The fact, too, that the missionaries visited all points, whereas in many 
places preaching normally was conducted in unattractive and ruined 
buildings at a great distance from many parishioners was a further point 
which must be kept in mind in assessing the dramatic results claimed by 
the tourists. 

It must be remembered also that both of these tours were conducted 
during the summer months and at the period which normally was regarded 
by the islanders as a holiday season. Had they landed in November or 
February it is unlikely that they would have had much opportunity of 
reaching many of the population, who during the short days and bad 
weather of winter months would have been disinclined to venture forth 
to listen to even such a novel campaign. 

The period of these tours was one of considerable apprehension. 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 71 

In Great Britain the example of events in France was causing a wave of 
panic which spread throughout this country. On 3rd June, 1799, the 
General Assembly saw fit to publish a pastoral admonition to the people 
under their care. The first part of this refers to the happenings in France, 
but the second part strangely enough was directed against Haldane and 
his friends. “It is much to be lamented,” ran the address, “that while 
we are assaulted by false principles imported to us from abroad there 
should of late have arisen among ourselves a set of men whose proceedings 
threaten no small disorder. We mean these who, assuming the name of 
missionaries from what they call the Society for Propagating the Gospel 
at Home, are at present going through the land acting as universal 
itinerant teachers, intruding themselves into parishes without any call, 
bringing together assemblies of people in the fields or in places not intended 
for public worship; where, pouring forth their loose harangues, they 
frequently take the liberty of censuring the doctrine or the character of 
the minister of the parish. In these giddy times, when the love of innova- 
tion so much prevails, listen to the word of truth and soberness, recollect 
the counsels and the practice of your fathers under a well-educated and 
regularly ordained ministry. (Signed) William Moodie, D.D., Moderator.” 

A further Act passed followed an overture from the Synods of 
Aberdeen and Angus and Mearns respecting Vagrant Teachers and Sunday 
Schools, Irreligion and Anarchy. The Act recited many Acts of the Scots 
Parliament back to 1567 claiming that it was unlawful for any person to 
keep a private school in Scotland without registration. It was pointed 
out that for a first offence such a person was liable on conviction to be 
imprisoned for six months and for a subsequent offence to be transported 
for life. The Assembly enjoined all Presbyteries to be diligent in 
exercising these powers and to get the assistance of the Procurator of 
the Church to carry on such processes of law as might appear to be 
necessary to stamp out these new and novel movements. 1 

Forty Years On 

The result of the visits to Orkney and Shetland above described was 
the formation, principally in Shetland, of a considerable number of 
congregations or meetings. These were known variously as meeting places 
of Independents, Congregationalists or “Missionaries”. The Congrega- 
tional Union as known today did not exist until 1812 and then on a small 
scale, and therefore it is difficult to know exactly under what auspices 
these gatherings were founded. Fortunately there is available a fund of 
information regarding the churches formed on these lines and arising out 

1 Acts of the General Assembly , as above. 


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SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


of the visits of Haldane, Aikman and Innes. This is to be found in the 
voluminous reports of the Commissioners on Religious Instruction 
published in 1839. 

Orkney 

In Orkney the movement had not taken root in the same way as in 
Shetland. Three congregations owning four churches then existed, as 
follows: 

Kirkwall 

This congregation totalled forty communicants, although at evening 
services as many as two to three hundred assembled. Most of these, 
however, were not formally associated with the church. (It is strange that 
even today of all the churches in Kirkwall the Congregational Church is 
the only one to have a larger evening than morning congregation.) In the 
Report, membership was stated to have been stationary for a considerable 
time and all but four members were of the working class. The Church, 
built in 1823-24, was a building above dwelling houses and had been so 
constructed in order to raise money from the house rents. Seat rents were 
3/- per annum, very few were let, and the collections totalled only 5/- 
per Sabbath. Of the two ministers who conducted the services, one — the 
Reverend David Ramsay — received no stipend and his Assistant received 
one pound per week. 

Evie and Rendall 

This Church consisted of sixty members, all of the poor and working 
classes. The attenders were drawn from a wide area, including the islands 
of Gairsay and Rousay, so that the attendance varied very much, depending 
on the weather. The stipend was fifty pounds but most of this was 
received from the Congregational Union. Collections varied from one 
shilling to six shillings per week. 

Harray 

The members of this congregation, formed in 1810, also were entirely 
drawn from the working classes. The chapel, built between 1818 and 1823, 
was sixty feet long and fitted with pews, a refinement not found in many 
of the churches in Shetland. Before the church was built the congregation 
worshipped during summer months in the stackyard of Langskaill farm 
and in the winter months in the barn. The members gathered from a wide 
area and the collection averaged only two shillings per Sabbath. This 
congregation also had a small place of worship in the parish of Sandwick, 
built prior to 1810 on the lands of Benzie Clett, where the minister preached 
from time to time. Each year Mr. Mason, the then minister, went on a 
preaching tour throughout the islands of Orkney which was understood 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 73 

to be part of his duty. In this way the traditions of the Haldanes were 
continued. This congregation was advanced enough to have a library of 
religious books ‘ ‘open to all denominations at a charge of 4d. per year and 
to the poor gratis”. 


In Shetland, about ten churches and congregations existed, these 
being at: 


In the north part of Unst a chapel had been built costing from forty 
to fifty pounds. The 16 to 18 members were charged annual seat rents of 
6d. per head, surely the lowest such charge ever recorded. There was no 
weekly collection, an indication of the poverty of the people. 

Sullom, Northmavine 

This Church, established in 1810, was attended by twenty to thirty 
people when the services were conducted by a layman, but if a preacher 
officiated as many as two hundred were present. All were reported to be 
of the working class and the church, which measured 38 ft. by 14 ft. 
had a thatched roof which was only 6£ feet from the ground. 


Shetland 


Unst 


Walls 


FQ . FC1 au iULeresung account ot 

journeys is given. (Appendix A). 



one of these missionary 


Foula 



Quarff 



74 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


Sandwich and Cunningsburgh 

Mr. Robert Smith, lay preacher, was located here. His average number 
of hearers was thirty — all of the working class. The congregation was 
declining and the attenders included a number of Baptists who themselves 
had no place of worship. The chapel cost thirty pounds when built in 
1820 and of this small sum two-thirds was raised in other parts of Shetland. 
The preacher had no salary but performed public worship twice every 
Sunday as well as in the homes of the members alternating from one 
house to another. 

Sand 

In this parish, where the Reverend John Nicolson had been newly 
ordained, the church, established in 1828, had cost £70, of which £20 was 
still unpaid. The average attendance was 80 and here one member was 
reported as not belonging to the working class. Seat rents totalled £ 2 per 
annum and of the stipend of £30 the congregation raised only £8. 

Lerwick Congregational Church 

It appears that the origin of the Congregational Church at Lerwick 
was rather different from that of the other churches founded in Shetland. 1 
About the time of the visit by the Haldanes there was a feeling of friction 
in the Church of Scotland at Lerwick. Three men — James Peterson, 
blacksmith, Peter Sievewright, baker, and James Sinclair, mechanic — 
resigned as elders. Later, however, they withdrew altogether and formed 
a religious meeting where they met regularly for prayer and bible reading. 
They are said to have been the victims of public ridicule and persecution 
which extended almost to a cessation of orders in their respective businesses. 
Later that year the visit of Haldane and Innes took place and the Lerwick 
group received new spiritual stimulus and encouraging advice from the 
visitors. Shetland then received a visit from Mr. George Wright and 
Isaac Nichol on behalf of the “Society for the Promotion of the Gospel at 
Home”. As many as two hundred people attended these preachings and 
this body became the first organised congregation of Dissenters in the 
town, although at the time of the Cromwellian occupation of the islands 
Cromwell’s “Ironsides” had built a meeting house for themselves. The 
Lerwick congregation was one which developed from an entirely indepen- 
dent group so totally unacquainted with denominational peculiarities that 
they did not know what distinctive name to assume or with what body to 
unite. It was not until 1808 that they finally became formally a Congrega- 
tional Church. 

1 Scottish Congregational Magazine, old series, October, 1858, etc. 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 75 

In 1803 Mr. James Tulloch, a graduate from the Theological Academy 
in Glasgow, came to Shetland with a view to continuing the work com- 
menced by Haldane in the district around Lerwick, and while engaged in 
this ministry he was seized by a press gang and hurried aboard a warship. 
He was later liberated through the intervention of friends. 

The first settled pastor of this group was Mr. George Reid, and as it 
was extremely difficult in these days to get people from the South to 
ordain Mr. Reid and induct him the Shetland Congregationalists followed 
the practice which had been adopted at times by small separate groups of 
Presbyterians and, following a special service, the members themselves 
ordained the minister. Mr. Reid suffered certain hardships in the early 
years of his ministry. He was cursed and pelted with rotten eggs, decaying 
vegetables and snowballs and otherwise molested in the street. At night 
people also rattled the doors and windows of his house and one evening a 
fiddler was pressed to stand outside the door of the room where the service 
was then being held and as the worshippers were bowed in prayer he 
played the well known tune “De’il stick the Minister”. This incident in 
itself ended the persecution, as the sympathy of all decent people came 
down strongly on the side of the Congregational organisation. This 
church differs from the others mentioned in respect that an organisation 
existed before the visit of Haldane and Innes to Shetland. 

Reawick 

This district, situated 25 miles northwest of Lerwick, has a beautiful 
Congregational Church with seating capacity for 350 to 400 people. It 
originated between 1820 and 1830. The first settled pastor was appointed 
in 1842 and in 1900 the Church at Sand was united with it. 

Whiteness 

During the ministry of Reverend Nicholson in Scalloway he took a 
great interest in the erection of a small church at Whiteness, about six 
miles northwest from Scalloway, where he preached one Sunday per 
month; going by small boat when the weather was suitable and walking 
at other times. When at the Congregational Assembly meetings he made 
a collection among friends for funds to build this chapel and raised eighty 
pounds. When going home to Shetland the steamer went ashore in dense 
fog and when the boats were lowered they were so leaky that they could 
not float. Fishing boats came from the village of Cove and took off the 
passengers. Shortly afterwards the vessel broke in two and some of the 
cargo was washed ashore, among which was Mr. Nicholson’s chest which 
contained the money for building the chapel. It was restored to Mr. 


76 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


Nicholson and after the bank notes had been carefully dried the Bank 
accepted them and they were put to their original purpose. 1 

A press report of the opening of this chapel reads: 

"Opening of a Chap el in Shetland 

“A new chapel was opened for public worship in the parish of 
Whiteness in Shetland on the 28th December last, in connection 
with the Congregational Union of Scotland. On both services the 
house was so crowded that many had to go away for want of room. 
The circumstances under which this place of worship has been 
erected are somewhat singular; but it is thought unnecessary to 
make any statement of these matters here further than this — that 
the people in that locality, having been prevented from receiving 
religious instruction in the school-house of ‘The Society for the 
propagation of Christian knowledge’, formed and carried through 
the resolution of raising this house. When finished it is expected 
to accommodate about 200 persons. The walls, roof, door and 
windows have been so far completed that a shelter is afforded from 
all weathers, but nothing has been or can be done to the inside for 
want of funds. The present seating is a mere temporary con- 
struction and very uncomfortable, and it would be well if some 
kind friends were moved to afford assistance to finish the work. 

“Whiteness is one of the stations connected with Mr. Nicholson’s 
charge, but the chapel is always open to every credited Evangelical 
preacher, and it already has been occupied by our brethren of the 
Baptist, Methodist and Free Church connexions.” 

Rev. David Ramsay 

An early apostle of the Congregational Church in Orkney was the 
Reverend David Ramsay. Mr. Ramsay was born in 1780 at Barrie, 
Angus, and was brought up in comparatively easy circumstances. Originally 
a member of the Church of Scotland, he was interested by a preaching 
tour of Rowland Hill and the Haldanes in his native district. This 
increased Ramsay’s interest in religion and he purchased copies of the 
Confession of Faith and other documents. The reading of the former 
altered Mr. Ramsay’s opinions of the form of church government. He 
became a dissenter from the national church on account of its establish- 
ment. While still in his teens he went to Arbroath to become a weaver 

1 Scottish Congregational Magazine, old series, October 1858 etc., and information 
from R. C. Mowat, Esq., Rosebank, Scalloway. 


The Early Days of Independents and Congregationalism 77 

and there joined the local Congregational Church. While there he decided 
to study for the Congregational ministry and attended Mr. Haldane’s 
classes. After leaving the class and preaching for some time in Kirkin- 
tilloch and Greenock he came in 1807 to Kirkwall, where a Congregational 
Church had been formed a year before. Strangely enough the trustees 
were not all members of the church and interest on the debt still due 
pressed heavily on the new congregation. To raise money the chapel was 
let out to a company of actors; this caused Mr. Ramsay to leave the 
church and to rent a large room where those that adhered to him met for 
worship. In these early days the members were allowed to exhort at the 
closing of the forenoon services but later on Mr. Ramsay declared this 
as being one of the impediments to the early success of Congregationalism 
in Kirkwall and elsewhere; too many people attempted to speak on 
subjects on which they were not at all well informed. 

The visit of the Haldanes had awakened the people and they were still 
vividly remembered in all parts of Orkney. In his early days Mr. Ramsay 
preached extensively in all parts of the mainland and in the islands. As 
previously stated the Kirkwall Congregation was composed of working 
people who were unable to provide Mr. Ramsay with a stipend. Accordingly, 
he commenced the manufacture of straw plaiting which for forty years 
supplied regular work for the women in the county. He was engaged in 
this employment all week but preached every Sunday in Kirkwall, the 
islands or in the country. This caused him considerable expense for horse 
and boat hire. Except in extreme cases it was necessary that he should 
return to Kirkwall to allow him to be at business on Monday morning and 
a memoir states that in many cases his necessary return was accompanied 
by “narrow escape from a watery grave”. 

Mr. Ramsay often has been stated to have introduced the straw 
plaiting industry to Orkney but it is fair to point out that in the New 
Statistical Account, under an article on the Parish of Birsay and Harray, 
it was stated to have been introduced by Mr. Robert Borwick of Kirkwall. 
The industry was very important in the Orkney economy and was princi- 
pally concerned with the preparing of straw for hats and bonnets. Agents 
gave out the straw to the women to be manufactured in their own dwellings 
and according to their skill each could earn from 3d. to gd. per day. The 
employment was extremely susceptible to the vagaries of fashion and 
changes of designs in the hats worn by the fashionable ladies of London 
had instant repercussions in the homes of the straw-plaiters of Orkney. 

In 1815 the Reverend George Robertson went north to assist Mr. 
Ramsay. Mr. Robertson was an Orcadian, having been born at Tankerness 


78 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


on 17th June, 1778. Going to Edinburgh in early life he fell under the 
influence of the Reverend Rowland Hill. Latterly, he entered the 
Haldanes’ Theological Academy and was one of the first 24 students. It 
was customary each Sabbath for one to preach in Kirkwall and the other 
to go to the country or to the islands. This involved journeying over roads 
or tracks the conditions of which people in the south were totally unable 
to imagine: often it was necessary to travel 24 to 30 miles during the 
weekend. Returning from Harray one winter Sabbath evening, snow being 
on the ground, Mr. Ramsay’s horse fell with him. He found that his leg 
was broken and that he could not walk. For a long time he lay on the 
ground, fearing that he might die there, for he was near no road and 
beyond the cry of any house. After a while, with great suffering, he 
managed to creep on his hands and knees to the house from which he had 
started. His recovery was tedious, but as soon as he was able to sit in a 
chair' he was carried, chair and all, to the place of meeting and preached 
every week. After his recovery, however, Mr. Ramsay confined his 
services to the town of Kirkwall. In all Mr. Ramsay continued to officiate 
in Orkney for a period of 46 years until his death, which took place on 
24th August, 1853. He was described as an original thinker with matured 
opinions. Outside his own congregation his advice was much sought after 
in Orkney by people of all classes. His feelings as a Christian were more 
sober than ecstatic. “His illustrations were singularly luminous but not 
always equally distinguished by good taste, and he was a popular preacher”, 
says the writer of a brief biography. 1 It is interesting that Mr. Ramsay’s 
name was still quoted during the period of my residence in Orkney 
although his death had taken place about a century earlier. 

Evangelical Union Church, Shapinsay 

Of the ninety or so churches belonging to the Evangelical Union of 
Scotland only one was erected in Orkney. This church was built in 1850 
in the island of Shapinsay and resulted from the efforts of a stone mason 
who then was helping to build Balfour Castle, which today as then is one 
of the finest mansions in the Orkneys. 2 This propagandist had brought 
some of the pamphlets on the atonement controversy with him from the 
south and circulated them in the island and among his fellow workers. 
The result was that “such a hungering and thirsting after the word was 
excited” that two Evangelical Union students were sent to Shapinsay and 
preached night after night. A church was formed and ground was granted 

1 Memoir of Mr. David Ramsay; Scottish Congregational Magazine, old series; 

MS. book kept by Kirkwall Congregational Church. 

» Dr. Fergus Ferguson, History of the Evangelical Union (1876). 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 79 

for the erection of the chapel by the proprietor of the island, J. Balfour, 
Esq. Shapinsay Church, with the other Evangelical Union congregations, 
joined the Congregational Union in 1896 and continued to meet until 1961. 
During part of my stay in Orkney the church was vacant and on many 
occasions I accompanied the Reverend J. R. McCorkindale of Kirkwall in 
the performance of his fortnightly “supply” of the Shapinsay Church. 
This meant a Sunday rendezvous on Kirkwall pier at 1.30 p.m. in all kinds 
of weather. Here a motor boat conveyed us to Shapinsay, six miles away, 
where a car was in waiting to take us a further three miles to the church. 
Prior to the service we were plied with tea and Orkney home baking. 
Mr. McCorkindale then conducted the worship, after which a further 
service of tea followed. We then retraced our journey by car and motor 
boat to arrive back on Kirkwall pier at 5 p.m. Despite its seeming 
proximity to the Orkney mainland one felt that one had paid a visit to 
some distant part quite different from the populated surroundings of 
Orkney’s capital. 

An interesting Pastor of this Shapinsay Church was the Reverend 
John Heggie, who ministered there from 1901 to 1902. Leaving Shapinsay, 
he later described himself as minister of the Congregational Church at 
Harray. It is understood, however, that he had received no call to this 
body but merely offered to act as pastor to the small number of adherents 
in return for the weekly collections and any donations. He also conducted 
services in the Sandwick Church. Later he was better known as a standard 
bearer of the “Wee Frees” in Orkney, following on a House of Lords 
Decision in 1905. Here he was concerned in barricading the United Free 
contingent from the former Birsay Free Church. This led to an action in 
Kirkwall Sheriff Court between Mr. Heggie and the Reverend Charles 
Meldrum of Birsay in which it was alleged that Mr. Meldrum had slandered 
Mr. Heggie. The Court, however, found in favour of the Defender. 1 

What must have been a major sorrow in the life of the Reverend David 
Ramsay of Kirkwall falls to be recorded. His son, David Ramsay, aged 
14 years, in company with three other boys about the same age, was on 
3rd August, 1838, standing at some of the booths beside Kirkwall Cathedral 
forming part of the Lammas Market. Here it was suggested that the lads 
go and steal some turnips from fields outside the town, and they sef off 
together. Having taken the turnips the boys were in process of eating 
them by the roadside when another boy came along the road towards 
Kirkwall from Tankemess. On his passing, the Kirkwall boys for some 
reason pretended to be drunk but one of Ramsay’s companions gripped 
the boy and later all four laid him down on the road and while holding 

1 Process, Heggie v. Meldrum, Kirkwall Sheriff Court. 


80 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


him went through his pockets. From these they took some copper coins 
and also 4/6d. in silver, but on the boy pursuing them they all sat down 
together and returned the copper money. It was then suggested that the 
silver money had been left lying on the road and the assaulted boy returned 
to look for this. Later, however, it was alleged that Ramsay had kept a 
sixpence in his mouth, and other small sums of silver were in the possession 
of the others. All were arrested and charged on Indictment. The declara- 
tions of the accused have been shown to me by courtesy of Mr. Johnson, 
Depute Clerk of Justiciary. When examined by the Sheriff one of Ramsay’s 
co-accused declared that he had attended the Grammar School at Kirkwall 
and that Mr. Craig, the teacher, was very particular in making all the boys 
learn their catechism, which they had to say every morning. He admitted 
to the Sheriff that he knew the answer to any question in the shorter 
catechism and that the eighth commandment was “Thou shalt not steal”. 
For this offence, which today would have resulted in an appearance before 
the Juvenile Court, possibly followed by a short period of Probation, these 
four accused actually were charged with Highway Robbery and conveyed 
to the High Court at Edinburgh where each got the then lenient sentence 
of nine months’ imprisonment. One can imagine the sad effect of these 
proceedings on the Reverend Mr. Ramsay, and the harm which possibly 
quite wrongly he would feel had been done to the Congregational cause in 
consequence. 1 

Present Position Regarding Church Buildings 

In Orkney the Congregational Church now occupy a small but sub- 
stantial building which was opened for public worship in November, 1876, 
at Palace Road, Kirkwall. 

The church in Harray, it is sad to say, is now used for the purpose of 
housing deep litter hens. 

In Rendal, too, the church survived until the 1951 gale and was used 
by the locals as a hall. During this notable incident in Orkney history, 
however, it was almost completely blown down and the materials were 
carried away for other purposes. 

The Shapinsay Church building was closed for regular worship as 
recently as 1961. For some time before services had been conducted here 
regularly by the Church of Scotland minister on the island. Towards the 
end membership numbered forty but most were elderly and some had left 
the island. Only about a dozen or so attended during the last months. 

1 Records of the High Court of J usticiary. 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 81 

The final meeting was held on Wednesday, 18th April, 1962, when an 
afternoon service was conducted by the Rev. Mr. Gordon of Kirkwall 
Congregational Church, an official from the Congregational Union, to 
close the Church officially. The buildings then reverted as in their Titles 
to the Balfour family of Shapinsay and were bought by a former member 
of the church who now lives in the manse but does not occupy the church. 
The proud boast of the earlier laird that the church would have so short 
a life that when it reverted to him he would stable his horses in it, therefore, 
was confounded, for the church continued to meet for over a century until 
the island was hit by depopulation like other parts of Orkney, and thus 
performed a long and useful Christian service. 

Sandwich Church. This congregation had a chequered career having 
at times a minister, at times a missionary with long periods of vacancies 
in between. The church building remained in good condition until it was 
converted into a defence post, being on the east side of Skarabrae 
Aerodrome. 

Services are remembered here as recently as 1912. The minister of 
Harray Congregational Church preached at Sandwick at 4 p.m. In winter 
people walking to the service carried oil lanterns with them to light their 
paths. A centenary service is remembered about 1910. 

A lady still living, who has been contacted by me, remembers that her 
grandfather had helped to carry on horseback slates from the Black Craig, 
Stromness, from which the church roof was built. 1 

In Shetland 2 the position is that only the foundations are visible of 
the church built at Sullom in 1810. The new church, erected in 1865, is 
now in use by the Church of Scotland. 

The same position applies in the island of Foula, where Congregational 
services ceased shortly after the first war. 

In Sandwick the church building continues in use, having been bought 
from the Congregationalists in 1891 by the Free Church for the sum of £10; 
it therefore continues as the present United Free Church of Scotland. 
Although built in 1820 Title Deeds were not granted until 1838. The first 
worshippers here had applied for preachers to the Methodists and only 
when their request was ignored did they get in contact with the ‘ 'Missionary 
Church” of the Congregationalists. This very primitive building had 

1 Information supplied by Mrs. Ida Garson, Sandwick, Orkney, and other local 
informants. 

* Information for this section was gathered from many local informants — Church 
officials, Registrars, Schoolmasters, Postmasters, etc. 


82 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


provision left in erection for the addition of a gallery which finally was 
done. The roof originally was of grey Shetland stone but about the 
beginning of the present century the stones were replaced by slates. 

Scalloway. This church, erected in 1838, was raised by free labour, 
even women carrying sand and stones from the beach to assist at the work. 
A man, who died in 1920 at the age of 90, remembered as a young boy 
carrying baskets of pigs’ bristles to mix with lime to provide plaster for 
the walls. 

A description of this church shows the comforts or lack of these in 
such early buildings. The seats were wooden planks, placed on trestles, 
on top of an earthen floor which was sprinkled with sand. Stones were 
left projecting from the walls for the purpose of adding a gallery if this 
ever was required. 

Walls. Extensive inquiry in Walls has revealed that the first small 
church was on the same site as the later one built about 1820. Local 
tradition still tells that when this second church was opened there was a 
surplus of funds and the people were given a free soiree which apparently 
was much enjoyed by all, as it is mentioned even today by two separate 
people who heard of this from people born about this time (1848). The 
new church also had an earthen floor but was fitted with a gallery, unusual 
at this period. Prior to the building of either church, services were held 
at Burrastow, Walls, and it is known in the traditions of one local family 
that the great grandmother, bom in 1818, went to the services there as a 
little girl. Later on these were held in a house at West Shore, the walls of 
which still are standing. Walls Church today, however, closed in 1965 and 
presently is advertised for sale. 

Sandness. The church here now is used for the necessary but humble 
function of post office and grocery store. 

Whiteness. This church is still standing but is no longer used. When 
open, one sermon per month was preached by the minister from Scalloway. 
An interesting reflection on Shetland travel is that when the weather was 
fine he proceeded by small boat but only in bad weather did he walk. 

The church at Sand later was united to the congregation of Reawick 
and the church building here is believed still to stand unoccupied. 

So far as the congregation of Billister is concerned this has completely 
fallen out of local memory. Extensive inquiries in the area have revealed 
no knowledge or trace of the former chapel and this was the only instance 
in which my inquiries, raised so many years later, have met with a complete 
blank. It is a great tribute to Messrs. Haldane and Innes that practically 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 83 

every one of the persons written to by me in Shetland, most of whom were 
local Registrars, recalled in 1966 the famous visit paid by these missionaries 
to these northern islands as far back as one hundred and sixty-seven 
years ago. 

A Legal Complication 

• 

An interesting complication arose regarding the former church in Mill 
Street and at one time occupied by the Congregational Church at Kirkwall 
before moving to their present place of worship in 1876. The church was 
sold in 1875 to local Templars’ Lodges. At this time the Good Templar 
Movement was growing throughout Orkney. In fact, at one time as many 
as forty lodges existed in the islands. When the church was sold by the 
Congregationalists it was thought that Good Templarism would last 
forever, and accordingly, the original title deeds stated that if ever the 
body came to an end in Orkney the premises were to be conveyed to 
Trustees consisting of magistrates of the burgh, representatives of other 
Temperance bodies in the town and “such ministers of the Gospel in 
Kirkwall as may be pledged total abstainers’’. At the end of the recent 
war Good Templarism came to an end, but without formal dissolution. 
The body of Trustees named who were according to the title deeds merely 
to hold the hall till the revival of Templarism now assumed possession and 
it is to be noted that the only pledged abstainer amongst the Kirkwall 
Ministers was the Reverend Thomas B. Gordon of the Congregational 
Church. The hall has been the subject of two separate petitions to the 
Court of Session and finally the Court varied the Trust and conveyed the 
subjects to the Burgh of Kirkwall who are converting the building into a 
civic theatre. 1 

A review of the early Congregational activities in the islands of Orkney 
and Shetland and the subsequent history indicates certain very definite 
conclusions. It is true that the original appearance of these gentlemen 
missionaries from the south in their campaign attracted thousands from 
various motives. These would include the novelty of Evangelical preaching 
to the working classes, mere curiosity and the fact that in the summer 
months the attendance at the meetings would provide a pastime usually 
not available. When allowance is made for these features there must also 
have been a considerable spiritual quality which accompanied the move- 
ment. Many ordinary fishermen and crofters felt that at last persons of 
education were prepared to treat them and their humble life with serious- 
ness and respect. This in itself must have seemed a great contrast to the 

1 Court of Session; Closed Record, Petition by Robert Marr and others, i960; 

Archibald Macwhirter, Good Templars in Orkney (Kirkwall, 1951). 


84 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


apparent indifference of many of the parish ministers. The figures collected 
regarding the position of the churches in 1837-38 show that the movement 
had remained very much one related to the poorer classes. Their original 
attachment and continued adherence to the Congregational Church 
probably was an appreciation of the interest which had been taken in 
humble people like themselves. The fact that the Methodist Church at a 
later date obtained a substantial footing in Shetland probably also was the 
outcome of the readiness of the pioneer Congregationalists to travel the 
country proclaiming the Gospel not only in church buildings but wherever 
an opportunity arose. The continuance of Congregationalism at towns 
like Kirkwall and Lerwick today possibly has been contributed to by the 
fact that over the generations incoming Congregationalists would settle 
in these towns. 

The only other churches remaining are at Reawick and Scalloway in 
Shetland. The first of these is under the superintendence of a minister 
from Lerwick and in the latter a weekly service is conducted by a layman. 

The beaches, barns and market places of Orkney and Shetland no 
longer resound to the earnest voices of the Evangelists exhorting their 
hearers to the accompaniment of the cry of sea birds overhead. Surely, 
however, some of the impact of these happenings of a century and a half 
ago has lingered in the traditions of the islands. The sudden arousing of 
many must have left its stamp in faithful living and contributed to the 
corporate characteristics of those who were not apathetic or indifferent. 
The word preached in the noble surroundings of these campaigns would 
not return void. 


Appendix A 

PREACHING TOUR IN SHETLAND 
( Letter from the Rev. P. Peterson ) 

Vadlure, 20 July, 1853 

My Dear Brother, 

I wrote you from Unst on the 28th ult. On the following day I 
preached in a district of that large and populous island, known by the 
name of Burrafirth. The meeting was well attended, especially considering 
that it had rained heavily all the day. I was warmly urged to visit them 
again, which it is not very likely I shall ever be able to do. On the 30th, 
I left the North Parish, having preached five times in it, and performed 
several other religious services, walked all the length of the Isle, making 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 85 

several calls in the Mid Parish, till I reached Snaravoe, crossed Bloomel 
Sound, which separates Unst from the still larger island of Yell, and was 
kindly received by the family of Culivoe in North Yell. I remained here 
from Thursday evening till Monday, and preached on Friday, Saturday, 
and twice on Sabbath to such congregations as might have been expected 
under the circumstances of the case in other respects, and having no 
chapel to collect the people in, while the state of the weather on Sabbath 
forbade outdoor preaching. On the Monday I proceeded to the southward 
as far as Midyell, a distance of eight miles. I was here favoured with the 
use of an excellent pony belonging to a kind friend, and much enjoyed my 
ride over a fine level road, made about two years ago under the superinten- 
dence of Capt Craigie, R.N., as employed by the “Edinburgh section of the 
Central Board for relief of Highland Destitution”. In the evening I 
preached at Seafield, Midyell, to a pretty large audience, mostly women, 
some of whose hearts I trust were open to attend to the things which were 
spoken from the word of the Lord, to which they listened, in some cases, 
with tears stealing down their cheeks. Next day I walked to Ulsta, the 
nearest point to the Mainland, and distant from Midyell, by the line of 
road I followed, about io miles — crossed the broad and dangerous sound 
to Delting. When thus crossing Yell sound in a boat of about 12 feet keel, 
managed by an old man and two boys, we passed pretty near to the Isle 
of Samphray, on which reside three or four families, the males of which 
together with a young woman had a few months ago met a wattery grave, 
near to their own shore, when returning home from the Mainland. Such I 
was told had been the fate of most heads of families who had ever lived 
on the island. 

After landing on the Delting side, I pursued my journey partly by 
land and partly by water, till I reached Sullam, when I had the pleasure 
of finding my friends well. I also found there my daughter from Foula, 
and her children. She had not before been on the Mainland since 1849, 
when she married and settled in that isolated spot in the Western Ocean! 
Her husband had been supplying for me in Wall, &c., and they are still 
with us. 

On Wednesday the 6th instant, I reached home at a late hour in good 
health and spirits, although somewhat worn out with incessant walking 
and preaching: felt thankful that I had been able to accomplish this tour 
with satisfaction to myself, and with profit I trust to others. In the evening, 
last Sabbath, I preached in the parish church of Papa, a place which 
owing to the dangerous Sound which separates it from Sandness, I can too 
seldom visit. During the previous week the people here had had several 
addresses from a Mormonite preacher, who is at present making a tour of 


86 


SCOTTISH CHURCH HISTORY SOCIETY 


the Shetland Isles, urging his vagaries on the attention of the people, with 
a degree of earnestness and zeal worthy of a better cause. The people are, 
I trust, in general too well acquainted with their Bibles to be duped by 
such absurdities. This is the first preacher belonging to the “Latter Day 
Saints’’ who has ever trode on Shetland soil, and his success will I expect 
be such as will afford little encouragement for others to follow in his train. 

I am, my dear brother, 

Yours very truly, 

P. PETERSON. 


Appendix B 


MINISTERIAL LIFE IN SHETLAND IN THE 1850’s 

“No man who has not his heart in the work was fitted for occupying the 
position of a Shetland Congregational Minister. Physical strength was 
needed for the work, but moral energy, or rather spiritual life and power, 
must distinguish the man who is called to pursue his labours in weariness 
and painfulness, in journeyings often, in cold and rain, in storm and 
darkness. But there is a blessedness in such service which they only who 
engage in it know, and they have God’s blessing evidently resting upon 
them. The Sabbath-day congregations at all the stations are as good as 
can be wished, for the chapels are in general quite full, and in most places 
when I collect the people together on week days in cottage houses or rather 
in what you would call huts, the attendance is very encouraging, and in 
such cases part of the audience always consists of persons who from some 
cause or other, are never seen in places of worship on Sabbath days, and 
therefore it is of the more importance to bring the gospel to them in this 
way. Sabbath before last I preached at Sand in the forenoon and in 
Reawick in the evening. The Lord’s Supper was observed in the former 
place, in the presence of a considerable number of spectators, several of 
whom appeared to be affected. On Monday evening we had a missionary 
meeting in Mr. Stout’s schoolroom at Reawick. The weather happened to 
be very rough and consequently the attendance was not so good as other- 
wise would have been the case. The collection, however, was far beyond 
expectation, especially as the Wesleyans about a fortnight before had had 
a meeting in the same place, of the same nature, for their Missionary 
Society. On Tuesday I left Reawick for Westerskeld where I had intimated 
a sermon for that day and where I was met by a marriage party, for whom 
I performed the ceremony in the presence of the congregation. As the 


The Early Days of Independentism and Congregationalism 87 

evening was threatening to be very violent, and I had several miles to 
walk and then to cross an arm of the sea before I got home, I got brother 
Nicolson, who had come as a hearer, to preach to the people while I 
pursued my journey westward. On my way from Reawick to Skeld I 
overtook “an old disciple”, in his 89th year, who had attended the meetings 
on Sabbath and Monday evenings. His mind had first been seriously 
impressed when Mr. James Haldane was in Shetland upwards of 53 years 
ago; and chiefly by reading one of the tracts circulated by him and Dr. 
Innes on that memorable occasion. On the road from Reawick to Skeld I 
attended to a family baptism. I had other two children to baptize in the 
same neighbourhood but the day was too cold to allow of infants being 
carried out, and circumstances would not permit me to have so many 
separate services.” 

Scottish Congregational Magazine 
(Old Series) 


Appendix c 

SOIREE AND PRESENTATION 

“On the evening of Friday the 7th March, 1851, Mr. Peterson, pastor 
of the Independent Church, Walls, treated the young people and children 
belonging to his Bible Class and Sabbath School to a soiree in the chapel, 
on the occasion of his presenting to them a circulating library, furnished 
by some of Mr. Peterson’s personal friends connected with Rose Street 
U.P. Church, Edinburgh. The library consists of upwards of 200 volumes, 
published by the London Religious Tract Society, and at the Catalogue 
price worth £13. After praise an appropriate prayer, offered up by Mr. 
Findley, Wesleyan Minister, and a service of tea, which was evidently 
much relished. Mr. Peterson, who, of course, presided, rose up and 
exhibited in his hands a few volumes as specimens of the library pre- 
sented to, and for the use of, his young people, said that the duty thus 
devolving upon him to present such a valuable gift to his Bible class, and 
to the Sabbath School, he felt in all respects to be a pleasant one. Because 
this invaluable boon was conferred by Christian friends belonging to a 
different section of the Church of God, and, therefore, a pleasant exhibition 
of Christian liberality. The Senior Sabbath School teacher then gave an 
address to the scholars, and dwelt in an interesting manner on the 
privileges of the young in the present day.” 

Scottish Congregational Magazine 
( Old Series)